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Canterbury tales

Written By: - Date published: 7:15 am, May 11th, 2011 - 16 comments
Categories: disaster, health - Tags:

For most of NZ life is chugging on — albeit bleaker than usual, with wild weather, winter coming on, a nasty budget expected, prices rising, a stalled economy and so on. But spare a thought for earthquake ravaged Christchurch. For much of the city life is still far from normal. Buildings and roads are extensively damaged. The city centre and many businesses are closed. Many toilets don’t work. Some friends and family have left the city, some may never return. Government support is badly misdirected or is winding down. The weeks are lengthening in to hard grind. It is all going to hit some people pretty hard:

Quake victims will need long term ‘professional help’

Canterbury residents were left with “no sense of control over how they live” following the two earthquakes, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor says. Sir Peter Gluckman said for many people the quakes of September 4, last year and February 22 were “disempowering events” and that it was important to regain control to combat psychological responses such as numbness, depression, despair and anger.

There have been hundreds of aftershocks in Canterbury since September. The latest was at 3.04am today [Tuesday] and measured 5.3 on the Richter scale. Gluckman said most people were resilient and would recover from the effects of the two quakes. However, up to 10% or more would require continued “professional help” and “specialised care”, Gluckman said.

He also warned the continuing aftershocks “may well extend the recovery process”.

“Some of the population may experience on-going feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, loss of trust in scientific information, continued hyper-vigilance and disturbed sleep,” he said. He said children aged one to five may exhibit fear of separation, strangers and experience sleep disturbance. Women, particularly mothers of young women, and people with a prior history of mental illness also appeared to be more vulnerable than other groups, he said. …

Gluckman said there were four stages of disaster recovery:

– An initial heroic phase in which people do not count the costs.
– A honeymoon phase in which people see some help arriving and feel the situation will improve.
– A long-term rehabilitation phase in which people realise how long the recovery will take and may become angry and frustrated.
– A phase in which people appreciate that things can never return to exactly what they were.

Gluckman said the people of Christchurch were in the third phase of rehabilitation, which could last for some people for up to nine months. …

If you live in earthquake damaged Canterbury or Christchurch, share your stories here. What is life like in the city? How are you coping? What should be the top priority for the government?

16 comments on “Canterbury tales ”

  1. Old codger 1

    If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined.

    Like a war zone without the shooting. If the aftershocks go on & on – including occasional close 5s – people will put off rebuilding & it may come to the point when they question viability of the CBD & eastern suburbs. Maybe central parks & low density single story buildings with the suburban businesses happily taking up the trade, as they are now. Big job losses are inevitable. Firms who thought they had loss of business insurance are finding that there are tricky escape clauses in the fine print.

    The people here are the copers, the others are gone I think. You exchange glances with people & acknowledge this. They are fixing the roads a bit faster than they get damaged. The sewerage system is – much as I dislike the word – munted. If you’re here we know we’re all survivors & share this environment. You get used to it. We used to swap earthquake stories & still do, but not so much; seen thousands, seen them all. That 2g 6.3 was something exceptional. The last big one was 5.3 and 20km from Christchurch, barely rated a yawn.

    • Lanthanide 1.1

      “The last big one was 5.3 and 20km from Christchurch, barely rated a yawn.”
      I think it really depends where you are. I’m in Spreydon, and that one felt particularly sharp, probably the largest in a while. I woke up, but by the time I worked out what was happening it had mostly stopped – definite flashbacks to 4th September though. By comparison the other quake we had on the Saturday night that knocked out power for some areas (not me) a few weeks ago, which was in Sumner again, didn’t feel like much at all.

      • grumpy 1.1.1

        I’m with you Lanth, the “little” 5.3 was bloody near under our house just outside Rolleston but then we’ve been getting these since September. It’s only news when it shakes Christchurch.

    • Lats 1.2

      For those in the city that is probably true. We live in Rolleston, and are about 2-3 km from the epicentre of the recent 5.3, and I can assure you it certainly rated more than a yawn for us 🙂 We were rudely awoken with a very sharp bang. It felt about as strong to us as the 6.3 did in February. I was lucky enough to be at home with a cold that day, so missed the drama in town.

      We have been very very fortunate in these quakes. We had a lot of mess to clean up at home after the September quake, but little if any damage to the house itself, and no friends or family were harmed. My work was closed for about a week after that quake, and for nearly a month after the February one, although I was in at work for some of this time helping get our IT systems back up and running. I also spent my fair share of time on the business end of a shovel.

      I think what impressed me most was the way the majority pitched in and helped their friends, neighbours, and complete strangers alike. It is reassuring to know that when we need it most the community spirit is still alive and well here.

      For me there have been two main downsides – those who chose to take advantage of the chaos for their own gain (looters, scammers, etc) and the time it seems to be taking to get any real progress on rebuilding. I understand that it is a complicated process, and that it is worth taking time to get it right the first time, but there are a lot of frustrated people down here (small business owners and the like) who just want to be given a time frame for when things are likely to happen. Brownlee doesn’t seem to be able or willing to do this. In fact the overall level of communication from the Quake-Tsar seems to be virtually non-existant.

  2. The Voice of Reason 2

    Clip here of a Chch unionist talking this morning about their response to the quake:


  3. Lanthanide 3

    For me, almost nothing has changed since either quake. Door in the bathroom started sticking after the 5.3 aftershock mentioned in the article, but that’s pretty much it.

  4. prism 4

    I live in the Top of the South and we hear about and mix with Canterbury people regularly. Little things like the woman who bought a lot of Enid Blyton books to provide non-threatening, positive stories for her grand-daughter who can hardly sleep through the night.

    I spent some time trying to contact various people in Chch to see if help I could offer was wanted. I finally got through to a Trust and the woman there said they had their hands full just calling on isolated people in their area to check and offer help. People in the eastern areas are quite stretched. Some businesses in New Brighton have a boost because other local ones have been wiped out. Traffic in the west of Christchurch is very heavy – people say that half the population is living and shopping in the other half.

    My feeling is that authorities have been slow to act for people’s needs, fast to act to prevent further fatalities in the central city, and kept a military approach particularly to people control too long instead of appointing someone to hear people’s problems, sort them into business or private and direct them to others who could cause action or get a hearing for a co-ordinated move to action.

    Resources are being wasted by insurance company methods. They will pay out on loss of business and stock and the stock can’t be sold with the business apparently not offered that option, with a discount on the pay out even if it can be recovered.
    Much good quality stuff being abandoned, with staff not working and commerce temporarily at a standstill.

    Gerry Brownlee has revealed himself as the Mouth of the South with not a lot of brain behind it. The Mayor is good at speeches and rallying calls.

  5. calltoaccount 5

    The 6.3 epicenter got a bullseye on our suburb. No injuries to me, but thousands upon thousands of damage to us and others.

    After the 7.1, things were fine, a comment I heard in our local cafe for weatherboard houses was “you’ll be okay in an earthquake, the borer just hold hands” was perfectly funny. After the 6.3, it was “I hate this house”.

    Overall, a fast and workable plan is badly needed here that is more than just knocking everything down, cashing up the insurance and replacing with cheap concrete. Then wondering why people hate the place.

    To fix: something that involves retaining and strengthening, training up local people to be directly involved in the rebuild, and imposing a design style that is modern, yet reflects the existing nature of Christchurch.

    Will it happen? No way. Three indicators: the architects whose proposals for the CBD were largely rejected by Council last time, have been retained for the rebuild. The kms of roads to be rebuilt as opposed to repaired is far less than what is required visually . And I have heard the building owners seem to be lining up to do what is cheapest.

    Sad really. I believe Kaiapoi has done things much better in this regard, that is solving the planning vs speed vs cost vs consultation issue. Smaller scale, sure, but v. severe damage after the 7.1.

    As for a great Christchurch architectural style look at the picture here: http://www.ch.steiner.school.nz/about_us.htm. The architect is Philip Kennedy.

    Oh well, you have to have dreams, right??

    • prism 5.1

      I like the wee motto for the Steiner school : In thinking clarity – In feeling inwardness – In will perseverance.

      Seems a good approach to focus on in dealings in the world. And the school does look attractive. I don’t remember a mention that it had suffered damage. Hope it didn’t – don’t know where Opawa is.

      • calltoaccount 5.1.1

        Opawa is in south-east Chch. V. little damage to the school though. My partner used to be the caretaker, but well gone before all of this happened!

        It’s a great community, but the architecture / style could be adapted for anyone, not just these people. It passed the government inspectors in the 1990s, so economical. Could be wood or breeze block. It’s a ‘friendly’, safe, people scale style of building etc.

        Do very well for parts of the CBD! What’s next? We need attention for this idea, but how?!

  6. My brother’s house was quake damaged (too bad to live in). As of last weekend he and his wife had their belongings in five different places: His (our) Mum’s’; his wife’s Mum’s; the house a workmate offered to them (sharing); the quake damaged house; the flat they will move into next weekend. Everything, for them, even the most mundane and ‘simplest’ activity is like rearranging and wading through treacle.

    They’re really stressed and I was seriously worried about my brother’s health (he’s older than me) as he was lugging lounge suites and fridges about (with me and a couple of others) in the pouring rain last Saturday.

    What’s worse is that the recovery’ seems to be being managed the wrong way around – at least from a property owner’s point of view. Instead of someone case managing a number of sites (i.e., houses, commercial sites, etc.) there seems to be someone managing the EQC visits/inspections, someone managing the insurance, someone managing the CCC stuff and someone managing any repairs/rebuilds (and that often involves layers of contractors and sub-contractors. Just about everyone I know, including my brother, is just stunned at how uncoordinated it all is, from the property owner’s point of view.

    My brother, for example, had an EQC bloke come through (at last) who said he’d be recommending ‘demolish’. In the meantime, someone sub-contracted from Fletchers finally turned up to take down the brick cladding which was meant to be done months ago in order to allow the EQC inspections. My brother was in the quandary of having work done which wasn’t needed (if the demolish went ahead) but would come off his claim. Yet, because the EQC had not made their final decision he couldn’t stop the sub-contractors starting their work (which they were told to get a ‘hurry up’ on because of the huge delay).

    As for me, my 70sqm, 110 year old worker’s cottage is fine. It shakes a lot but just stays the same when it stops. Our street has no liquefaction but streets all around do/did. Traffic is appalling if you forget for a moment that we’ve had an earthquake and start to take routes using the ‘old’ mindset.

    So far we’ve lost (left ChCh) two families we know and young members of several other families (who may have left at some stage anyway).

    For me, the worst thing is thinking how these disasters will end up further ruining the lives of people least able to cope with it because of the interests that will be served in the ‘rebuild’ (i.e., not their’s no matter what the fine words). There’s going to be a toxic social soup brewing for us into the future, I fear, and it will be swilling around irrespective of any spanking new buildings we might end up with. No doubt efforts will be made to brush those people under some carpet or other as they won’t fit with a ‘Christchurch reborn’ narrative.

    That’s my biggest fear and it leaves a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

  7. Andy-Roo 7

    I live in the quake hit east side of town and work in the relatively undamaged west side. This means that every day I make the transition in and out of “quake town” which is a strange, strange sensation.

    And also a false one, because all of CHCH is quake town right now even if not everyone realises it.

    I worry for my city. I am going to outline some of my reasons below:

    Pay rates were already low in CHCH before the first quake, and right now we have a huge mass of unemployed and underemployed people.

    We no longer have strong local institutions left to provide a voice for CHCH, and those that we do have are now sidelined by CERA. This means that we are left to trust in the goodwill of a batch of Neo Con idiots that have just been handed an ideal opportunity to push their pernicious agenda.

    Daily life is just hard, and people are getting tired. Myself included, even though I still have a job to go too, and my bills are still getting paid. A lot of work has been done to put things right, but the surface has only been scratched. Right now the attention of the country is still on us – but what happens in a years time when the quake is old news that everyone is a bit sick of hearing about?

    People are resilient and will get through this though. I am hoping that some of the community groups that have formed continue to operate and that we end up with some better grass roots democracy in this town, because “formal” democratic institutions either no longer exist, or no longer have any power.

  8. Kea 8

    Peter Gluckman’s advice is sound, but the last time I checked his expertise was in paediatric endocrinology.


    Perhaps he would be good enough to let the experts take center stage, rather than merely enhance the mana of the Prime Ministerial science adviser.

  9. vto 9

    Like others we are in eastern Christchurch pretty much centred over the average epicentres since February. We now live directly over an active faultine.

    Gluckman’s piece reinforces and confirms what we have all been seeing and experiencing in pretty much everybody we know to varying degrees. Young children tensed up and crying easily and having quicker tanties. Older adults tensed up and crying easily and having quicker tanties.

    Previously tougher talking types reduced to nervous anxious people with lost confidence.

    Lots and ,lots and lots of tired tired people sick to death of being shaken on a daily basis.

    People are uncertain about the future. I think it could still be that there will be an exodus again from the city, particularly as the winter drags and progress doesn’t happen.

    That typical question asked countless times a day… “How’s it going?” Well, normally the answer is something like “oh good thanks”, but not any more. Now it is “Oh pretty average” from pretty much everyone. One of the factors affecting the mindset of the people is the sheer scale – not in terms of the quake but in terms of the numbers of people concerned. The whole city. 350,000 people all in one place all with the same problems. Makes it daunting.

    Having said that, there are pockets of excitement about the future, the glossy dreamy future of a shiny new city etc. There are people keen to get back into the central city for work and living. But these pockets of excitement are fewer as the days go by.

    It is not a good place at the moment. Simple. But people have recognised that and have submitted themselves to a slow rebuild with all the unfortunate trappings. The side-effects of all that however are the things that Gluckman outlines. And those things are very real. And the majority in our neck of the woods.

  10. MrSmith 10

    I was there all last week, and the aftershocks are unnerving, I couldn’t wait to leave, friends and family all looked numb.
    I like to party occasionally and used to love going out for a night on the town, but there is no town to go to any more.

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